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“I Would For You” is a tricky episode of The Vampire Diaries in that it mostly exists as a plot mechanism to catch the current timeline up to the season’s three-years-in-the-future flash forward framework, yet it still has to find a way to make the emotional aspect of that plot mechanism work. We already know where all of the characters find themselves in three years, and with who; what this story needs to do is make the emotional connection between the characters we know now and the characters we are about to join in progress three years later make sense, even though there are obvious pieces still missing. The attempt is ambitious, but the execution only fitfully successful, resulting in what feels like someone threw up their hands and said “Close enough!”

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That’s perhaps harsher than it deserves, but for an episode that obviously required extensive, season-long planning, the emotional arcs of most of the characters feel more than a little bit rushed. The impetus for this is Rayna’s continued pursuit of Stefan and Damon’s continued attempts to stop her, which is a plot that gradually encompasses everyone else on the show in some way. We obviously know whatever Damon tries to do to stop Rayna here isn’t going to work—the first shot of the entire season told us this—so Damon’s story in the episode isn’t really about stopping her, but instead about how he ended up in the coffin next to Elena, desiccating alone for three years.

Of everything in the episode this is the one thing that sort of works, mostly because it’s the one plot of the season that is connected to tangible things from the show’s past (no matter how tired those things may be). Damon wanting to get in a coffin and wait for Elena to wake up tracks with who Damon became throughout the series—but the move requires one big emotional leap that the show actually took the time to nurture, and that’s the importance of Damon and Bonnie’s friendship. Damon deciding to take himself out of the equation so Bonnie doesn’t spend her whole life putting herself in danger for him is something he sees as a selfless act, and something the show took the time to make work. And in the only truly heartbreaking moment of the episode, Bonnie realizes what Damon is going to do and lets him know that it isn’t okay. Never seeing her again, not saying goodbye, not being in her life—no matter the reasoning—isn’t okay. It’s the one scene here that bears true emotional weight, and Kat Graham wrings every bit of real pathos from her words to Damon. It’s lovely.

The scene is almost frustrating in retrospect, simply because everything else surrounding it feels a bit flimsy in comparison. Stefan’s big emotional arc from the present to the future is tied up in Caroline’s story with Ric and the babies, which basically dooms it from the start. This is unfortunate because Stefan being required to essentially be on the run for the rest of his life is an inherently fraught story for a character like him who so relies on the relationships with the people around him. Having Caroline be tied to Ric’s babies (therefore making Stefan too dangerous to be around lest she or the babies get used as bait) is a fine idea for a story—in a completely different show. TVD, though, hasn’t figured out a way to make it fit into this world at all, which is unfortunate because the flash forwards lock them into having to tell it, no matter what. We know Ric and Caroline are in Dallas and raising the babies together in the future, so dammit TVD needs to get there, whether it fully works or not.

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Another stark transition that feels like a long time coming yet still manages to come off as truncated is Matt’s transformation into a guy who orders his vampire friends to leave Mystic Falls for good. Matt hasn’t made sense as a character maybe since Elena’s early days as a vampire, and his journey in this season has been, well, not good. He’s always had an edge of hating vampires while still tolerating the ones he knows—hell, even being their friends—but all of a sudden he gets one pep talk from a women who is flirty with him and he decides he has enough leverage to kick his friends out of town for good? Listen, Matt isn’t wrong that vampires ruined everything about Mystic Falls, but what he fails to grasp is that Stefan has called Mystic Falls his home for far longer, and now Matt is going to try to drive him away by threatening to post some YouTube videos? It’s nonsense, honestly, and doesn’t even really tie to the future segments yet so it feels like especially truncated nonsense right now.

There is one brave and interesting section of the episode, and that’s the somewhat clever decision to condense all the flash forward moments into an actual flash forward montage at the end of the episode, catching everything up to one timeline. It’s interesting because it offers a fun way to recap all of the scenes that were dispersed throughout the season, and it’s brave because the short nature of that montage really puts a lampshade on just how little impact those scenes had when they were presented the first time around. Now that we’ve caught up, does anything feel that different, even though so many things have obviously changed on the surface?

The episode ends with Stefan tied up and Rayna revealing that instead of killing him she wants to transfer her mark to Damon instead, which makes me wonder: What was the point of everything we just watched, then? If Damon is going to save Stefan is going to save Damon is going to save Stefan, can anything ever really evolve on the show? The Salvatore brothers’ need to always save each other is an incredibly important part of both of their characters, but it can’t be the sole aspect of their stories together for that much longer, lest the show feel like it is stuck in the same place—even three years later in the timeline.

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Stray observations

  • The scene of Damon lounging around in a bloody apron waiting for Rayna’s body to reassemble itself was pretty hilarious. He’s the Dexter of Mystic Falls.
  • I have a funny feeling Bonnie’s terrible decision she’s talked about in the flash forward segment has something to do with the Armory. Leave Bonnie Bennett alone, shady secret organization!
  • It’s nice that Damon left Ric a note saying goodbye. I think that’s the most screen time that friendship has had since early in the season.
  • No more “Babies, they’re so much work!” montages. Ever.
  • This Week, In Matt Donovan Is The Best: I can’t even deal with Matt Donovan anymore, therefore I am officially retiring this stray observation. The most entertaining thing about him in this episode was when he tried explaining the sliding scale of morality in regards to vampires to Penny and failed miserably. That meta comment about the crazy morality on this show pleased me.
  • “Did it grow back?” Bonnie, still the best.

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